It was a path that county officials never anticipated having to go down.
However, in the past month, Spokane County Utilities Director Bruce Rawls has made two presentations – one to county commissioners, the other to the Spokane Valley City Council – on the very real possibility of seeking foreclosures on some property owners who owe thousands of dollars in unpaid sewer bills.
“I honestly never thought we would have to foreclose on a property,” Rawls told the council on Jan. 20. “I was wrong.”
Unlike a water or electrical utility, county workers simply cannot stop toilets from flushing when bills are overdue. So it’s become easy for some county residents – up to about 1,800 altogether – to ignore their sewer bills.
The worst offenders, however, are landlords with multiple properties. In one case, Rawls said, a woman with four parcels owes Spokane County, with accrued interest, $38,000.
“I don’t think she’s ever paid a bill,” Rawls said.
County officials wanted to give the Valley council fair warning before they saw media reports or started getting questions from city residents. But with a total of unpaid sewer bills that can result in liens at around $3 million, something needs change beyond a “strongly worded letter”, Rawls said.
County commissioners have authorized that Rawls take it to at least that step – writing a letter to the worst offenders – to let them know that foreclosure is a very real possibility. However, the commissioners would have to authorize any such move with a formal resolution.
County officials want those with past-due amounts to be able to make payments in a reasonable manner – not a lump sum. They also plan on making the online e-billing system easier to use.